Mar 18, 2011

Environmental Groups Announce Intent to Sue Over Gas Drilling Discharge

Two Pennsylvania plants targeted over Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater

Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper served legal notices last week on two sewer authorities that have been discharging Marcellus Shale gas drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River watershed south of Pittsburgh. The notices detail alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act by the facilities, primarily for discharging wastewater without a permit. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) were notified of the legal action. This is the first time a legal action has been filed to stop the current discharge of Marcellus drilling wastewater.

The two sewer authorities targeted are the Municipal Authority of the city of McKeesport, Pa., in Allegheny County and the Franklin Township Sewer Authority, located in Greene County. According to the environmental groups, McKeesport discharges up to 100,000 gal per day of Marcellus drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River, and Franklin Township discharges up to 50,000 gal per day into Ten Mile Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River. The Monongahela supplies drinking water for nearly a half million people, including a portion of the city of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania DEP previously has issued consent orders with both facilities that purport to allow the sewage plants to accept and discharge Marcellus wastewater, the groups said.

Water samples recently taken by University of Pittsburgh researchers downstream of area wastewater plants have shown elevated levels of numerous contaminants found in Marcellus wastewater, including total dissolved solids, chlorides, bromides, barium and strontium.

Although in 2010 DEP issued strict wastewater treatment standards for most oil and gas wastewater sources, the new rule grandfathered all existing plants that are currently discharging Marcellus wastewater. According to the environmental groups, no plants in Pennsylvania that are currently discharging Marcellus wastewater are capable of removing contaminants to the level required by the 2010 wastewater rule.

EPA Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin sent a letter this week to Acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer concerning Marcellus wastewater discharge permits. The letter read in part, “These permits do not now include critical provisions necessary for effective processing and treatment of wastewaters from drilling operations.”

The legal action filed last week is the first step in what is referred to as a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act. This federal law allows citizens for sue for enforcement the Clean Water Act when they believe government agencies have failed to address violations. Last week’s filing is the legally required “Notice of Intent” informing all parties of the Clean Water Act violations at issue.